The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO) was sued yesterday by its longtime (and former) Regional Manager Pekah Wallace. The federal lawsuit claims her employment termination was improper and provides a whole host of information about what has been going on behind the scenes at the agency.
(As with all new lawsuits, my standard warning applies — these are allegations in a complaint, not a determination from a court.)
I’ll leave it for others to opine on the merits of the case because my firm represents a number of clients before the agency.
The allegations, however, show, at a minimum, that there was a great deal of friction going on at the agency for a number of years — even while the agency was investigating the outside complaints of employees against their own employers too.
Ms. Wallace alleges violations of: Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-51q (applying the First Amendment to the workplace); First Amendment retaliation under the Constitution itself and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983; Denial of Equal Protection; Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations; and Defamation.
The lawsuit, in which she is represented by Anthony J. Pantuso, III, seeks an unspecified amount of dollars.
Among the allegations raised are a series of allegations that Ms. Wallace claims were unfair accusations that she released confidential CHRO case information to her own personal attorney, Miguel Escalera, of Kainen Escalera and McHale, LLC during the course of her employment.
Ms. Wallace claims that the “information included in the reports which Wallace prepared at the direction of [CHRO employee Cheryl] Sharp included only processing dates, and did not include information as to ‘what has occurred in the course’ of CHRO investigations…” (Complaint, Paragraph 145).
She alleges that CHRO Executive Director Tanya Hughes and Sharp have instead “repeatedly disclosed information on pending CHRO cases to Attorney Escalera when it suited their purposes,” (Complaint, 144), and that the information they disclosed “falls more closely within the prohibitions of the statute, contrary to the information Wallace provided.” (146)
Ms. Wallace alleges that when her employment was terminated, the CHRO “falsely stated” that Wallace had “deliberately violated policies on the use of [her] state email account and the state network, by sending numerous non-business related emails;” (b) “on multiple occasions and in voluminous amount in violation of C.G.S. 46a-83(J) [she] had released to Miguel Escalera . . . information on active CHRO cases;” and (c) “that [she] had acted in an offensive manner to me, Tanya Hughes on January 29, 2018, when via email, [she] instructed me to contact [her] attorney if I wished to meet with [her].” (Complaint, 161)
The CHRO has yet to file an answer or a motion asking for a dismissal and there’s no indication yet that the agency has been served with the Complaint yet either. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shea.
This is not the first time that Ms. Wallace has sued the agency she works for.
In 2006, she brought a federal lawsuit making allegations regarding her employment as well including a claim that she was denied equal protection in violation of the 14th Amendment under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. (Download here.) That claim was dismissed by stipulation before trial.
In 2007, two other employees filed suit against the agency alleging discrimination. In that Complaint, the former employees that “at least ten (10) women other than the Plaintiffs also experienced this discrimination and hostility” and that this individuals included “…Pekah Wallace…” (2007 Complaint, 38)